Skip to 0 minutes and 8 seconds Making Freedom is a celebration of emancipation in the Caribbean in 1838. Africans there took things into their own hand, because they were very anxious and concerned that freedom was denied them. They were very much inspired by the revolution in Haiti, led by Touissant L’Overture. So in 1816, in Barbados, a rebellion took place that was led by Busa. And what he actually did, he got together a good number of African men and women and felt that they could overthrow the system. And that’s what they tried to do. But what happened to them was that they didn’t have enough weapons. They took things into consideration that they shouldn’t have done.
Skip to 0 minutes and 58 seconds And when they did rebel, in April, 1816, that rebellion didn’t last for more than three days. And eventually, the British came in and broke things up and captured most of them. And eventually, a good number of them were hung, they were, some of them were shot, et cetera. Now that rebellion in itself was an important rebellion that the information was spread throughout the Caribbean. And in 1823, another rebellion took place in Guyana, in Demerara. And again, that was led by Jack Gladstone and Quamina. And what they did, they tried to do a peaceful protest against the British government. But that didn’t actually work. So when it didn’t work, what they did was to take up arms.
Skip to 1 minute and 54 seconds And again, they didn’t have enough arms. So eventually they had to fight as much as they could. But they couldn’t beat the British army that was well armed, guns and all kinds of things that they used against those Africans. That eventually failed. And what happened in Jamaica was to cause the British government to take notice of it. That particular rebellion was led by Sam Sharpe and other men and women from the community. And it commanded or it had the support of 60,000 African men and women in Jamaica. Now what that rebellion actually did was to tell the British government that Africans were prepared to be martyrs for their own liberation.
Skip to 2 minutes and 45 seconds And eventually, the British government met and decided that, yes, they will give freedom. And had they not given freedom, they felt that the West Indian islands and other colonies would have been possibly burned to the ground. So they gave freedom in 1834. And then what they actually did was to bring about something called apprenticeship. Apprenticeship was a system by which Africans were supposed to work for the employers but get no money. So in a sense, it was just like enslavement in a different form. Now from 1834 to 1838, there were lots and lots of rioting and disturbances and protests and strikes and so on. And it was too much for the government not to take notice.
Skip to 3 minutes and 36 seconds So on the 1st of August, 1838, what was called full emancipation came in. Now the exhibition speaks about those things, in the sense that it has images and it has texts that tell the story according to what the Africans, how they would have felt about it, giving it an African voice. So in 1838, it was a big event in the Caribbean. Throughout the Caribbean, we had celebrations. In some Caribbean islands, there wasn’t anything going on. People didn’t really know what was going to happen. So on the 1st of August, 1838, there was a particular celebration in Spanish Town, Jamaica. And there is an image of that celebration in the exhibition. So Emancipation Day was a crucial event in the Caribbean.
Skip to 4 minutes and 31 seconds 1834, then 1838, because of apprenticeship. And the Africans felt that they did something about that, and not that it was given to them by the King, or later on there was a rumor that it was the Queen, Victoria, who gave them freedom. And then somebody else was also saying that, well, it might have been Wilberforce who had provided freedom for them in 1834. So the story that the exhibition is telling is a story that gives a timeline of activity, in fact, way back from the 17th century, 16th century, when enslavement was a system by which it was a state of war against African people then, because they were held in bondage. 1791, we had Toussaint.
Skip to 5 minutes and 28 seconds And then we had, in 1816, we had Busa. Then in Guyana, 1823, we had Quamina, Jack Gladstone. And then the biggest rebellion uprising was in Jamaica, with Sam Sharpe, in 1831-32. So in that sense, Making Freedom makes a point. It makes a point about the agency of Africans in their own liberation.
Renowned historian, Arthur Torrington CBE, is a director of the Windrush Foundation, curator of the Making Freedom exhibit and co-founder of The Equiano Society.
In this film, he discusses the role of self-emancipation and rebellion across history. Wherever slavery has existed, so has self-liberation. For example, by the time of the American Civil War, more than 250 small-scale slave revolts had occurred in the U.S. South. Africans had also mutinied on slave ships 392 times by 1860 - on as many as ten percent of slave-ship voyages. Enslaved people used other methods of resistance too. Many attempted escape, some for short periods in order to temporarily deny their masters access to labour power and so effect negotiations over marriage rights, free time, and religious freedoms. Others left permanently and formed fugitive communities in the surrounding forests, swamps and mountains. In the United States, assisted by the Underground Railroad, a vast network of individuals who helped fugitive slaves reach the North and Canada, as many as 100,000 people escaped between 1830 and 1860.
After watching the film, please explore the animated thematic map Slave Revolt in Jamaica, which narrates the spatial history of a large-scale slave uprising, when around 1500 enslaved men and women staged a massive insurrection in 18th-century Jamaica. Tell us your observations in the comments. What surprising patterns did you find? What does the map suggest about the nature and character of the rebellion?